According to a recent presentation from HubSpot, “selling is 10X easier once you have established trust.” Other than having something of value to offer, trust is the most essential element for business success. It removes psychological barriers and objections to buying, and makes people want to do business with you because they are comfortable.
I was talking to a client not long ago about some travel she has coming up that will take her away from the office for several weeks. Half-jokingly, I told her not to worry, I can build her business without her. She laughed, then said, “You know what’s amazing? Even though we’ve only been working together for a few months, I completely trust you to do it.”
That is amazing, and it is treasured. Particularly for consultants like me who work mostly out of sight of our clients, but really for any business, trust is absolutely essential to maintaining long-term client relationships and generating referral business.
Trust is precious yet delicate, like a work of fine art, such as a Ming vase:
- • It’s extremely valuable.
- • It’s difficult to obtain.
- • It’s fragile and easily broken.
- • Once broken, it’s extraordinarily difficult to repair.
But trust is unlike that vase in one critical aspect. Once you’ve obtained a Ming vase (or any other physical thing of value), assuming you take reasonable steps to safeguard it, it’s yours. Trust, on the other hand, can never be taken for granted and must be constantly and vigilantly re-earned. It cannot be, like civilization in the words of Kipling, something “laboriously achieved” but only “precariously defended.”
Most high-value purchases now begin online. Your first opportunity to build trust comes from what you say online and what others say about you. That’s why blogging is important (as a way to educate, inform and even entertain, without blatant selling) as is social media (for answering questions and building online relationships that lead to positive third-party coverage and comments).
But the process of building trust is even more fundamental than that. Blogs and social networks are just tools. They can be used productively, or clumsily. What matters most is your approach to business.
Before the Sale
- • Explain (without hype or a sales pitch) what you do, so people understand if you are offering what they are looking for.
- • Demonstrate knowledge (through blogging, guest posts, comments, interaction on social networks, presentations, etc.).
- • Differentiate yourself, with disparaging your competition. Walmart (“Always the Low Price”) and Lexus (“The Pursuit of Perfection”) are effective examples in the consumer world. The agency I work with, KC Associates, is a full service marketing and PR agency (of which there are zillions) but focused exclusively on b2b technology clients; the focus sets the agency apart.
- • Be transparent. Buyers can smell BS from a great distance. Better to give an answer that is less than ideal but honest than one that is just what you think the prospect wants to hear but is an exaggeration (or worse).
After the Sale
- • Do what you say you are going to do.
- • Be as responsive as possible.
- • Set realistic expectations (then work hard to exceed them).
- • Be forthright. Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do you expect you to be straight with them. If something doesn’t work as well as planned, tell your customer, as precisely as possible, why. Then make recommendations for what to do differently next time.
Particularly with the explosion of social media and online content, buyers are more informed than ever before. The shady, fly-by-night operators will be exposed more quickly—while vendors who deliver value and engender trust will thrive.